The number of dawn raids carried out by HMRC fell last year with the taxman raiding 1,082 homes and businesses as part of criminal investigations into tax evasion, according to new data.
Dawn raids allow HMRC to gain entry to premises with a search warrant, using force if necessary. The latest figures represent a 27% fall from the previous year when HMRC carried out 1,482 raids.
Law firm Pinsent Masons, which compiled the figures, said the HMRC has more data at its disposal than previously so is able to be more targeted with its raids.
We take all necessary steps to recover money owed"
"These days, if HMRC has taken the decision that it is necessary to raid a property, they are likely to already be armed with an abundance of data from multiple sources that will allow them to narrow the target of their search," Andrew Sackey, partner at Pinsent Masons and former head of HMRC's offshore, corporate and wealthy enforcement division, said.
"Although the warrant will describe the specific material being sought, investigators have police powers to seize evidence of other forms of criminality they encounter when lawfully on the premises. Escaping the tax authority's net is harder than it has ever been and the Fraud Investigation Service is already making repeated use of the new corporate criminal offence which criminalises companies for failing to prevent their staff from facilitating others to commit a tax fraud, even if the companies were entirely unaware of it," he added.
Pinsents said dawn raids usually take place in cases where HMRC suspects serious tax evasion, had been lied to as part of a civil fraud investigation, has concerns a suspect may attempt to destroy evidence or is concerned a suspect could be a flight risk.
Pinsent Masons added that dawn raids are frequently used as a final step in cases where HMRC already has reasonable grounds to believe that the suspect has been involved in serious or complex tax crime.
An HMRC spokesperson said: "HMRC is committed to ensuring all companies and individuals pay the right tax at the right time and will pursue those who fail to do so.
"We use a range of civil and criminal powers to tackle those committing serious fraud, which can lead to prosecution and imprisonment, life-changing penalties, seizure of assets, and sanctions.
"We take all necessary steps to recover money owed and since 2010, our criminal investigations have prevented the loss of £15.9bn, and resulted in more than 5,400 individuals being criminally convicted."
Despite the number of raids falling, the amount of money collected by HMRC's compliance arm increased from £30bn in 2017-18 to £33bn in 2018-19 and the total amount HMRC collected increased from £600bn in 2017-18 to £627bn last year.